Fiction

Say Yes: Chapter 1

Boredom is not a good thing for an alcoholic.

Time broods and wastes, and before long he’s pouring beer into a glass. Drinking it.

Followed by another. And another.

Then one more.

Then he walks down the street to the local watering hole—double whiskeys this time—sits on a stool halfcocked to the bar, and, recognizing the same illness in another man two seats down, the subtle nod that begins a conversation. Sports, women, work, politics, but most often stories, the small events that happen on drunken weekdays while your responsible neighbors sleep on, unaware of the throbbing, poisonous adventure happening next door.

In college and his early 20’s he was surrounded by others: laughing, smiling, encouraging—everyone goading each other on, reveling in the debauchery. But as the years drew on, they all gradually fell away. First the casual acquaintances, then the close friends.

Then his wife.

And finally, years later, his only son.

Sometimes, while searching desperately for the materials to make a toasted cheese sandwich at some ungodly hour in the early morning, the realization arrives: he’s alone. A brilliant maniac, dreams enhanced by inebriation, rummaging through the house. Alone. And the sadness of that reality forcing another drink, whatever he can find to black out: cheap vodka in the freezer.

Waking, stupid and heavy with booze leaking from his pores, he stumbles into the bathroom and turns on the fan along with the light because he knows by now that even the shit’s going to be sour with alcohol.

The man in the mirror is a shadow of his former self, but it’s hard to tell because he’s been rotting for years.

He sees the hope in every wrinkle, the care in every scar—however small—and all the things he regrets. But the best he can do is splash his face with cold water three times and forget.

This is followed by four Advil, vitamins, six pints of water, and strong coffee, the filter so full it sometimes clogs and runs onto the counter. Breakfast—if he remembered to buy anything at the store on Sunday—is a peanut butter and banana sandwich on raisin toast, wrapped in a paper towel. Then he heads out the door.

As he turns the key the car starts and clear bass voices begin braying in the cabin: sports radio blaring in the stillness of the early morning. He reaches for the knob and turns down the volume, backs out of the driveway. Then onto the road and left toward the city.

He took Holgate most of the time as it was less crowded than 26, though it probably made no difference time-wise.

But then, nothing really mattered. Not anymore.

So he is mostly on time, and as long as he doesn’t sexually harass a colleague or fail to show up for work, they can’t fire him. But even that doesn’t matter because he does a good enough job the others rarely even notice he’s there.

It’s this routine each week. Not every weekday with the booze, but usually three of four, and then Friday, Saturday, Sunday watching sports, reading, or on the water.

But always drinking.

A typical weekend in the spring: leave Friday for the coast with the boat, rent a cheap hotel room in Tillamook, then hit the Trask or Wilson or Kilchis the next day for winter steelhead depending on the river levels—this, after getting shitfaced drunk at some local bar with farmers and high-school kids, even the odd tourist.

But in the morning he’s up early, waking with the smell of river water and mist and green dew filtering down through the clean cobblestone rocks, past perforated boulders—some round, others with sharp ledges—towering firs and skeleton-branched oaks and bigleaf maples glaring their reflections onto the surface.

Sometimes a friend would join him, but more often he’d fish alone. One way or the other didn’t matter anyway. Not because he doesn’t enjoy fishing—he does. Does it as much as he can to distract himself. To forget. The irony is that it makes him remember too, because no matter how Zen the moment, feeling the lead tap the bottom as his corkie drifts through the run, in his mind he still sees flashes of the small hands in his periphery following their lines down the river.

Indeed, isn’t that why he drinks? No—but that’s what he tells himself.

Because where fishing is irregular, drinking is predictable.

He could have the greatest day in the world on the water or a complete skunking—as if the river was sterile of fish—and it doesn’t matter. The bar would be there. The beer. The whiskey. Sometimes a dirty martini or scotch. If there happened to be pretty girls: Long Islands and shots. If the fishing was good he might go again the next day…

But as life wore on, more often he wakes hungover, then tries to muster the courage to get out of bed and find a cheap, thousand-calorie breakfast at a local café or dive bar, followed by a leisurely drive back to the city, stopping at the store if he’s managed not to start drinking again on the way home. A bottle of wine over dinner, then whatever was left in the fridge, eventually passing out to begin another week.

***

Until he overdid it. Again.

It wasn’t even that he did anything so much different than what he usually did. He’d started drinking at home and then gone to the bar and perched on a stool to watch early season baseball, just like always. Started a long, droning conversation with the bartender, a tattooed punk named Molly who’d had a fight with her girlfriend the night before and wasn’t very happy about it. It was a pattern all the locals knew of and politely gossiped about, waiting of course until she’d gone to fetch another bottle or change a keg in the basement.

No, it was just that this time, despite his inebriation—the yellow skin, the dark circles under his eyes, the wasted muscles and sunken cheeks—despite all of this, a woman saw that he had once been handsome.

She was thirty-two and full of energy, the sort of woman a man in his fifties had no business being with. But employing what charms he had left she bought it for some reason. Eventually they went home together, where he brought out half of a joint and a bottle of wine—one of the four in his wine fridge that had survived previous blazes of glory. Then finally, after some clumsy, fumbling sex, they’d fallen asleep sometime in the early morning.

When the alarm on his phone went off at the usual time, he got up, but stumbled and fell before making the bathroom, dizzy. He should’ve known then—should’ve called in—but he’d done it once already that week. So instead he picked himself up and tried to repeat the whole familiar pattern he’d repeated most other mornings for the last twenty years of his working life.

Only this time he didn’t make it.

No, this time he careened headfirst into a telephone pole while coming down the first big hill on Holgate, off-center just a foot toward the passenger side, windshield glass splintering but intact, headlights shattering in a hail of plastic shards flashing under the lamppost, which bent gradually and then collapsed onto the sidewalk.

But Bill Brown didn’t notice any of this, having passed out thirty seconds before.

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